Try Raspberry Pi's PIXEL OS on your PC

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Over the last four years, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has put a great deal of effort into optimizing Raspbian, its port of Debian, for Pi hardware, including creating new educational software, programming tools, and a nicer looking desktop.

In September, we released an update that introduced PIXEL (Pi Improved Xwindows Environment, Lightweight), the Pi's new desktop environment. Just before Christmas, we released a version of the OS that runs on x86 PCs, so now you can install it on your PC, Mac, or laptop.

Installing PIXEL

Of course, like many well-supported Linux distros, the OS runs really well on old hardware. Raspbian is a great way to breathe new life into that old Windows machine that you gave up on years ago.

The PIXEL ISO is available for download from the Raspberry Pi website, and a bootable live DVD was given away on the front of "The MagPi" magazine.

Welcome to PIXEL

We released Raspberry Pi's OS for PCs to remove the barrier to entry for people looking to learn computing. This release is even cheaper than buying a Raspberry Pi because it is free and you can use it on your existing computer. PIXEL is the Linux desktop we've always wanted, and we want it to be available to everyone.

Powered by Debian

Raspbian, or the x86 PIXEL distro, wouldn't be possible without its construction on top of Debian. Debian has a huge bank of amazing free and open source software, programs, games, and other tools from the apt repository. On the Raspberry Pi, you're limited to packages that are compiled to run on ARM chips. However, on the PC image, you have a much wider scope for which packages will run on your machine, because Intel chips found in PCs have much greater support.

Debian Advanced Packaging Tool (APT) repository

What PIXEL contains

Both Raspbian with PIXEL and Debian with PIXEL come bundled with a whole host of software. Raspbian comes with:

  • Programming environments for Python, Java, Scratch, Sonic Pi, Mathematica*, Node-RED, and the Sense HAT emulator
  • The LibreOffice office suite
  • Chromium (including Flash) and Epiphany web browsers
  • Minecraft: Pi edition (including a Python API)*
  • Various tools and utilities

*The only programs from this list not included in the x86 version are Mathematica and Minecraft, due to licensing limitations.

PIXEL menu

Create a PIXEL live disk

You can download the PIXEL ISO and write it to a blank DVD or a USB stick. Then you can boot your PC from the disk, and you'll see the PIXEL desktop in no time. You can browse the web, open a programming environment, or use the office suite, all without installing anything on your computer. When you're done, just take out the DVD or USB drive, shut down your computer, and when you power up your computer again, it'll boot back up into your usual OS as before.

Run PIXEL in a virtual machine

One way of trying out PIXEL is to install it in a virtual machine using a tool like VirtualBox.

PIXEL Virtualbox

This allows you to try out the image without installing it, or you can just run it in a window alongside your main OS, and get access to the software and tools in PIXEL. It also means your session will persist, rather than starting from scratch every time you reboot, as you would with a live disk.

Install PIXEL on your PC

If you're really ready to commit, you can wipe your old operating system and install PIXEL on your hard drive. This might be a good idea if you're wanting to make use of an old unused laptop.

PIXEL in education

Many schools use Windows on all their PCs, and have strict controls over what software can be installed on them. This makes it difficult for teachers to use the software tools and IDE (integrated development environment) necessary to teach programming skills. Even online-based programming initiatives like Scratch 2 can be blocked by overcautious network filters. In some cases, installing something like Python is simply not possible. The Raspberry Pi hardware addresses this by providing a small, cheap computer that boots from an SD card packed with educational software, which students can connect up to the monitor, mouse, and keyboard of an existing PC.

However, a PIXEL live disc allows teachers to boot into a system loaded with ready-to-use programming languages and tools, all of which do not require installation permissions. At the end of the lesson, they can shut down safely, bringing the computers back to their original state. This is also a handy solution for Code Clubs, CoderDojos, youth clubs, Raspberry Jams, and more.

Remote GPIO

One of the features that sets the Raspberry Pi apart from traditional desktop PCs is the presence of GPIO pins (General Purpose Input/Output), which allow you to connect electronic components and add-on boards to devices in the real world, opening up new worlds, such as hobby projects, home automation, connected devices, and the Internet of Things.

One wonderful feature of the GPIO Zero Python library is the ability to control the GPIO pins of a Raspberry Pi over the network with some simple code written on your PC.

Remote GPIO is possible from one Raspberry Pi to another or from any PC running any OS, but, of course, with PIXEL x86 you have everything you need pre-installed and it works out of the box. See Josh's blog post and refer to my gist for more information.

Further guidance

Issue #53 of The MagPi features some great guides for trying out and installing PIXEL, including using the live disc with a persistence drive to maintain your files and applications. You can buy a copy, or download the PDF for free. Check it out to read more.

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Ben is a software engineer for BBC News Labs, and formerly Raspberry Pi's Community Manager. He's into Linux, Python and all things open source! Follow Ben on Twitter @ben_nuttall.


Wow. This is great Ben. I'm going to download and run in Virtual Box. I also recently bought a new Raspberry PI 3 kit and really enjoyed the new look from Pixel. I'm sharing this article with other ed tech teachers and trainers.

Is it really possible to fully install on a PC? As far as I'm aware, you can only run it from a DVD or USB media at the moment. Downside of this is that it uses the SD card for storage, rather than the PC's hard drive. This is handy for a school Pi session on their Windows PCs, but if you want to refurbish an old PC full time, it requires some work to set the hard drive as default, I found.

"If you're really ready to commit, you can wipe your old operating system and install PIXEL on your hard drive. "

Is there a recommended and documented procedure for that?

I ran Pixel on a PC booted from a USB Flash Drive, surfed the web 3 days with many extra open tabs, windows. Worked beautifully and never crashed on me. Very useful tool to have in YOUR POCKET (the usb flash drive that IS!!) USB Writer tools are good: or 1.3 Gigabytes is fairly large, yet is Debian 8 Live underneath the PIXEL Desktop Environment. 3 CHEERS for the for making a compatible environment between the ARM and x86 microprocessors. Thank you for marketing and bringing Debian 8 Live and the PIXEL desktop environment to regular people users worldwide!!!

PuppyLinux with a PIXEL addition…

Do you need something smaller like 200 Megabytes? Check out or Slacko 6.3.2. Loads its inital ram disk into DRAM memory and is lightening fast.
Run Slacko 6.3.2 PuppyLinux right now today as a Frugal Install. Does not change your Windows setup, nor needs partition software for a Frugal Install. Means you can try out PuppyLinux from a USB Flash drive or CD-R disk, with out committing to it.

10 minutes, 2 downloads, 1 USB Flash drive; Test PuppyLinux using a MS Windows computer.…

Yes, use PIXEL OS for x86 from a USB Flash drive first. That may meet all you needs. When you feel comfortable using Linux, consider Slacko 6.3.2 PuppyLinux from a USB Flash Drive for your older computer. Fred

I just started doing this a few days ago and I am very impressed with how everything is working. I am learning a lot with the community over at and finding this a very enjoyable experience. It's just plain nice to have something that works as advertised :-)

Sadly this doesn't support VIA x86-alike processors like the C3, as used in a lot of small x86 computers like WIDs and similar.

Would've been perfect for my Wyse Winterm V90, for instance, but there's some sort of fatal microcode problem.

This is the coolest thing ever! I recently bought a Raspberry Pi 3 and have been using BerryBoot to load various operating systems. I use RedHat based distros for work, and normally stick with them for home use when I'm not using Windows; but I have to say, I keep finding myself loading up Raspbian because of the PIXEL desktop being so lightweight and responsive.

I can't wait to have the option to install Debian with PIXEL onto a hard drive!

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